South Africa farm layoffs start after wage hike

South African farmers have started laying off labourers just two days after the government raised the minimum wage for the sector by 50 per cent in response to a wave of violent farm strikes, an industry official said on Wednesday.

The government hiked the base wage to 105 rand (US$11.86) a day on Monday but farm owners, most of whom are from the white minority, said they could not afford to pay their mostly black workers the increase and layoffs would ensue.

"Some of our farmers have already given notice to some of their workers because if they don’t it now, they will have to pay the remuneration according to the new wages, meaning an extra cost," Louis Meintjes, president of commercial farmers group Tau SA, told Reuters.

"We can already talk of thousands of workers given notices that they will be let go."

The new minimum wage comes into effect on March 1.

The job losses could spark a repeat of the violence in which police had to use rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse protesting farm workers blocking highways and torching vineyards and warehouses in the agricultural belt east of Cape Town.

Trade union federation COSATU said the job losses were expected but blamed them on commercial greed.

"This is just the backlash we expect from the reactionary farmers," regional COSATU leader Tony Ehrenreich said. "That is why we are saying government must pay them out and take the land to give it to farmers that are serious about farming."

The Food and Allied Workers Union said it was on the lookout for any unfair dismissals but had not received any notice of layoffs from its members.

Most farm workers in Africa’s biggest economy do not belong to unions, making it difficult to know the full extent of the planned layoffs.

The Western Cape strike came at the end of a wave of labour unrest that began in South Africa’s platinum mines in August and swept through the trucking and agriculture sectors, hitting growth and undermining the country’s investment reputation.

– Reporting for Reuters by Olivia Kumwenda in Johannesburg.

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